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Importance of structured mentoring for physicians and advanced practice professionals - Fall 2017

By Julie Phelan, MD, MBA; contributing writer for the Journal of ASPR

Several recent articles discussed the importance of mentoring to better prepare physicians and advanced practice professionals to learn, engage and excel. In medicine, new clinicians have traditionally learned skills and knowledge from more experienced clinicians.1-3

An experienced physician can help a new hire who recently completed residency and is now entering private practice to adapt to the culture, work-life balance and business of medicine, according to Allen Kram, MPA, FASPR, corporate director of physician development at Westchester Medical Center Advanced Physician Services. In private practice, concerns include reimbursement, efficiency and maintaining a business. A physician who has been with the organization longer can provide an example, lend advice to help with the transition and demonstrate what is expected. Perhaps a new hire would like to learn about electronic medical records software; then a more experienced physician who developed efficiencies in their practice with the EHR would be a good fit. If the mentee would like to develop skills in a certain procedure, physicians who have built their niche in this area could provide guidance. These are just a few suggestions from Lynne Peterson, FASPR, director, physician and advanced practice recruitment, Fairview Health Services.

A structured relationship is most meaningful

Peterson suggests that, ideally, a mentorship be a one-on-one relationship between an onboarding provider (the mentee) and the mentor. This could be within a practice setting, or particular geography, such as clinics in proximity to each other. Further, the roles should be clearly defined. Both the mentor and the mentee should have objectives for the relationship to ensure the success of the program. Meetings at regular intervals, such as monthly, add structure. A meaningful relationship can occur through phone or video calls, or coffee before clinic. The duration of the relationship also should be established. When a mentor relationship fails, it is often because the roles are not clearly defined, or because an expectation was not met. If the parameters are not defined, the relationship can quickly taper off.

When choosing experienced physicians and advanced practice professionals, Peterson suggests identifying those who would have a meaningful impact and with whom a mentee has commonalities in life or practice. A mentor may also be thought of as a role model. Consider choosing physicians whose leadership skills you admire, or those who have a desire to lead within your organization. Consider, too, those who exhibit caring and have a strong patient following, or an interest in teaching. These stand as strong examples to your new providers. If the organization would like to perpetuate a certain characteristic in clinical practice, then selecting an individual with that specific characteristic to advise a new hire may be a good idea. In this way, the new hire learns about this physician’s particular traits and may perpetuate these habits and practice measures in the future. However, guidance from someone with undesirable traits most likely will not be beneficial, as these proclivities could be sustained and fostered within the organization. This could lead to poor outcomes. However, guidance from someone who has certain unwanted characteristics would not be beneficial, as these proclivities would be perpetuated and fostered in the organization, possibly leading to poor outcomes. To that end, mentors are self-selecting, in that if physicians are unhappy, they usually do not sign up. Clinicians should not find mentoring a chore; choose those with the strongest interest, so they put in their best efforts.

Peterson noted that mentoring can be viewed from the prism of succession planning: “When you retire, who will take over for you?” It is a way to ensure continuity of patient care. New hires learn about the patients in a practice, and when a clinician retires or moves away, the mentee can take over the practice and better ensure continuity of care in the community.

Example of formal programs

Fairview Health Services has two formal programs, one paired with onboarding and another stand-alone program. The program in conjunction with onboarding was established for new hires, and the stand-alone program was created for those who have been working at the organization for a while. The stand-alone program is for employees at all levels and for jobs. Employees can sign up through a portal indicating their interests. Mentees choose interests or skills and are paired with those who have these specific skills or interests. The program has defined parameters and meeting intervals.

In addition to its two formal programs, Fairview Health Services has developed a method to reward physicians who serve. Mentoring and teaching, as well as serving on a committee, have been embedded in the “citizenship” portion of compensation. Physicians can serve in one or more citizenship categories if they wish. Thus, if a physician would like to teach but is not able to commit the time, serving as a mentor can be a way to instruct.


Establishing formal programs is worth the investment for physicians and advanced practice professionals, as well as the organization. As Kram noted, a formal program should provide a “foundation for successful development…with prescribed touchpoints.” If a more experienced physician can help increase the productivity of a mentee sooner, the mentee and organization benefit, as the mentee is provided the tools to succeed. Kram summarized, “Start with the key touchpoints [given the constantly evolving nature], and that is the genesis of a great program.”


  1. Thayer J. Enhance advanced practitioner onboarding through effective mentor programs. Journal of ASPR. St. Paul: Association of Staff Physician Recruiters; Winter 2015. Available at: Accessed July 22, 2017.
  2. Advisory Board Daily Briefing. Mentorship matters in health care. Here’s how to get it right. Available at: Published July 12, 2017. Accessed July 21, 2017.
  3. Wilkes M, Feldman MD. Mentoring clinical trainees: a need for high touch. Lancet. 2017 Jan;389(10065):135-137.